BLUE CRANES ~ older news

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(chronological order. click on links to see original articles.)

January 2, 2009
The Oregonian (Portland, OR)

The stereotypical jazz show is composed of an older audience listening to older performers. Wrong on all counts, particularly for shows of this indie-spirited jazz group, led by sax player Reed Wallsmith.

December 25, 2008
Portland Mercury (Portland, OR)

Another local band braves the unforgiving chill of the holidays and the icicles to lay musical waste to your ears... with brass! Blue Cranes absorb the tinny din of grimy jazz and noodly improv with a nightmarish plunge into bizarre. Brush the sheen off your shoulders and get weird one more time before '09.

December 24, 2008
Willamette Week (Portland, OR)

Maintaining the restless spirit of past pioneers, the colorful avant-jazz of Wallsmith’s Blue Cranes looks forward to the music’s future.

November 2008
Performer Magazine (San Francisco, CA)

Portland jazz quintet Blue Cranes head down to California this month to tour in support of their album, Homing Patterns. The dates will kick off on November 20 in Chico, include an appearance on KDVS radio show Cool as Folk, and conclude on November 25 in San Francisco with a performance at the Climate Music Box Series.

November 12, 2008
Willamette Week (Portland, OR)
"Blue Cranes, Quiet Countries, Gavin Castleton"

The avant jazzers are raising money to fix their tour van, and are joined by members of Portland Cello Project, Quiet Countries and Gavin Castleton, plus a screening of Portland filmmaker Jim Blashfield’s St. Helens Road, with music by the Land Camera Micro Orchestra, which includes head Crane Reed Wallsmith. Worksound, 820 SE Alder St. 8 pm Tuesday, November 18.

October 16, 2008
Daily Vanguard (Portland, OR)

Jazz has a rough time of it. The under appreciated genre rarely nets the audience it deserves and often has a hard time at that.

However, a little research will quickly reveal that anywhere with Blue Cranes on the bill should serve as a good entry point for newcomers and a breath of fresh air for genre devotees. This local group's sound is as invigorating as it is disarming. They gracefully merge nostalgic tributes to old jazz with completely fresh innovations on the genre. Even the band itself sees its sound as something of a conundrum.

"Jazz, rock, electronic, Latin. We don't really know," says saxophonist and arranger Reed Wallsmith, "I feel like we're just trying to draw on all of the influences we have, and play the music that comes out of us."

In 1994, at Portland's Grant High School, drummer Ji Tanzer and Wallsmith met to form a musical project and creative outlet for their jazz-leaning sensibility. Nine years later, in 2003, they joined with bassist and fellow jazz enthusiast Keith Brush to form Blue Cranes.

The group soon began looking for a keyboardist, a role eventually filled by Tanzer's wife, Rebecca Sanborn. Finally, to round out the quintet, Sly Pig joined on tenor sax.

With years of playing together now under their belt, Wallsmith explains how familial each other's company can be.

"I feel really fortunate to be playing with four other musicians who are amazingly compassionate people," he says, "Regardless of what is going on musically, they are so supportive."

When asked about his influences, Wallsmith mentioned The Bad Plus and Happy Apple.

He later explained what a good jazz-fusion band must offer to impress him, saying, "It's when I'm inspired by how they work together as a group. When they are amazing, amazing musicians but aren't using their music to showcase their abilities as individuals. They're working as a group. That's inspiring."

Blue Cranes is part of a tight-knit, once prominent and now rapidly re-growing community of musicians who remain convinced of the belief that the making of music is a group art, not to be wasted on show dogging. Each musician has a role to play, contributing to the wellbeing of the whole.

Another unique aspect of the band's music is its lack of vocals, the inclusion of which would take away from the music's purity and the audience's freedom to interpret and respond however they are inspired to.

The band's music is heavily reliant on subtle yet infectious interactions between the instruments, with random doses of electronics and high-powered rock that one would never find on an early-period jazz album. The audience is inspired to pay close attention, listening as each piece contributes its part and supports the next, with no foreshadowing of what's to come. The music is completely unpredictable, especially when experienced live.

"I think a lot of pop music in the U.S. doesn't involve much improvisation," says Wallsmith. "For me that's what can make a live show. You're playing something that is never going to happen again."

As far as recent accomplishments go, Blue Cranes has an impressive list. They released a self-produced album entitled Homing Patterns in May 2008, earned a raving write up in the Willamette Week, completed a successful tour of California and played a sold-out show with the Portland Cello Project. Wallsmith considers the latter performance one of his most impressive moments as a musician.

"To be up there in front of all those people, playing really quiet so everyone has to lean forward and listen," says Wallsmith, "We had seven cellists from the Portland Cello Project. I just felt so proud being up there."

This sort of "color outside the lines" approach to jazz is exactly what the Blue Cranes have tried to cultivate. When jazz music was at its prime, it was revolutionary, hip and a little irreverent.

Perhaps Blue Cranes' greatest accomplishment has been its ability to reintroduce jazz as it was intended; a little familiar, a little rebellious, entirely unpredictable and breaking every single boundary it can find.

August 27, 2008
Willamette Week (Portland, OR)

[JAZZ HANDS] Like some David Lynch-style basement jazz hallucination, the Blue Cranes' music is the type of experimental, sometimes insane, but always invigorating experience that's hard to shake. The Portland quintet understands jazz is alive and well—but also that it was never something to be defined in the first place. The Cranes treat music as the broad, blank canvas it is, splattering it with color, bizarre time splits, soothing melodies and frightening bursts of brass while forging an original soundscape that would make a by-the-books beatnik jazzhead's beret spin.

August 10, 2008
The Jibsheet (Seattle, WA)

Music, no charge, the most delicious offer in the world, especially when you are a financially struggling student working more than 40 hours a week and you want to attain some dignity or air of sophistication.

Cal Anderson surprised many on a sunny evening last week with a free summer concert in the park. Early evening, crowds accumulated with picnics, paper-bagged beverages, summer dresses and straw hats to enjoy artists from the Northwest, supported by the Monktail Creative Music Concern, a celebration of music and community outside. The Blue Cranes from Portland stole the awes from a gob smacked audience, playing the best eclectic jazz Seattle’s heard since Benny Carter at Jazz Alley in Seattle.

Although Seattle shines above most states for its strong sense of Jazz culture, the scene is wearing a little thin with bands playing limited repertoires of over-practiced Duke Ellington and Coltrane.

The Blue Cranes were something different. Something extraordinary. Presented on a mounted stage at Cal Anderson Park, next to the baseball field on Capitol Hill. In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelliger, an alto saxophonist, Alto Wally Shoup explained his thoughts that “people go out to hear jazz to participate in a bygone era, one where elegance and cool were expressions of freedom.” He goes on to hope that people will “go out to hear every form of music calling itself jazz. In doing so, they will remember what freedom still sounds like.” The Blue Cranes were a modern break of conformity, performing an emotive attack of music and passion, grasping the freedom of exiting a mind of negative thoughts and distractions, to enter a mind set of musical nirvana.

The quintet composed of two saxophonists, a keyboardist, a bassist and a drummer were originally high school friends who reconnected and gathered more instrumentalists to collaborate on a jazz/rock project. The music of the Blue Cranes inevitably centers around the powerful alto saxophonist Reed Wallsmith. He grabs the listener instantly, through the immense size of his sound. His tone is big, expressive, and unique with his skilled use of vibrato. He takes risks as he performs, using a variety of tones and vocalized effects. Wallsmith, bassist Keith Brush, and drummer Ji Tanzer anticipate each other’s next move with well thought empathy as Brush and Tanzer articulate Wallsmith’s notes.

Blue Cranes play original material, with some divine melodies and a variety of rhythmic approaches. Since forming in 2004, Blue Cranes have successfully built a diverse audience of people who are not normally drawn to jazz. For this performance on Capitol Hill, the group engaged the audience with a contemporary piece, a Sufjan Steven’s cover of “Seven Swans”, which was breathtaking in its execution. Starting with an opening upbeat walking tempo rhythm that became a moving wave of splashing sound, beating each sound to form another and building more power.

The event was sponsored by 4Culture, which is King County’s cultural services agency, which was established in 2003. 4Culture originally started a Preservation Program to promote the value of historic resources in building a unique sense of place in the Pacific Northwest. The organization combines the resources of the public sector with the flexibility of a non-profit group. Through the collaboration of four program areas, 4Culture encourages cultural activity and enhances the assets that distinguish Northwest communities as “vibrant, unique, and authentic.”

The Northwest is a blossoming community with a heart in the arts. With companies sponsoring events to support developing artists, inviting the community to watch their growth, Seattle is really the place to take advantage of letting go and expressing yourself with your talent.

The next outdoor concert at Cal Anderson on Capitol Hill will be on August 23, starting at 1pm. Guests will include: Floss, Reptet, Ahamefule J. Oluo and the New Seattle Brass Ensemble featuring Okanomodé, and The Wally Shoup Free Three. The event is free. For more information, visit:

August / September 2008 - #137
Dirty Linen (national publication)
"Blue Cranes - Homing Patterns"

Following its warmly received, if disparately perceived, debut CD, Lift Music! Flown Music, this Portland, Oregon, quartet has taken on a new member in the Decemberists' tenor saxophonist Joe Cunningham (a.k.a. Sly Pig). Guest New York City guitarist Ila Cantor adds her simultaneously cerebral and sensual asides. The debut disc used songs (mostly sans lyrics) as launch pads for all manner of frame-shattering tonal and textural reconstructions (Carlos Mejia Godoy's "Cristo de Palacaguina," with Nicaraguan streets open mic'd; Elliott Smith's "Coming Up Roses" along with the reincarnation of Beat-era Allen Ginsberg as a young Portland poet homesick in New York and telephoning letters home to free-jazz accompaniment, as on "Dear Howard"); The new Blue Cranes CD adapts only Sufjan Stevens' "Seven Swans," retooled here as a vehicle for Reed Wallsmith's disarmingly sustained alto saxophone tone and pianist Rebecca Sanborn's nearly mini rondo with acoustic bassist Keith Brush, whose lush, deep tone complements Wallsmith well. Drummer and percussionist Ji Tanzer plays the colors and locates a backbeat even on tenor man Sly Pig's woozy "Dirty Bourbon," recorded live at a No' Po' pizza pub. For such spontaneous music making, these pieces sure feel lived in.

Summer 2008
Pop Tomorrow (Portland, OR)

Portland, Oregon’s finest five piece jazz combo Blue Cranes present a sultry and soulful offering that stirs the psyche while tantalizing the heart. Crooning saxifone melodies roster through eleven tracks and are reminiscent of smoky bourbon bars and meloncholy late nights. High school friends Reed Wallsmith and Ji Tanzer team up to profer a unique connectedness replete with starry piano jimgles and swaying acousting bass riffs. There are moments of the great Mingus coupled with Latin jazz interludes. The finished product is an refined yet impromptu-textured mesh of howling instrumental laments. Straight forward and at times lulliby-esque Homing Patterns is a complex and elaborate manifold of approachable and somewhat swanky numbers that concurrently extricate and replenish the spirit with artful intricacies. Without covers or gratuitious solos, this work is a fusion of various warm and tender stylings sure to be remembered in an artfully timeless fashion. Static whispers close out the tenth track “Washington Park – Eastbound” before assuming asylum with an eerily bouncing reprise of “Crane.” Each listen unbolts a new interpretation as determined as the last.

Summer 2008
KDViations (Davis, CA)

If you feel as though there must be nothing that can stem the endless tide of easy-listening, breathy-voiced and otherwise "unguarded" indie rock that seems to seep into all corners of your surrounding sonic life, then Portland's Blue Cranes offer to fly you to safety with their new album, Homing Patterns.

Rising even further above where their previous effort left us, the core Cranes, with Reed Wallsmith on alto sax, Rebecca Sanborn on keyboards, Keith Brush on acoustic bass, and Ji Tanzer on drums, continue to hone and expand their blend of rock-influenced jazz on this record with the addition of Sly Pig (Joe Cunningham) on tenor sax and Ila Cantor on guitar.

Most songs on Homing Patterns are based on simple chord progressions of varying intensity, interspersed with fits of free-blowing, but often feature a straightforward rhythm component, which is one of the hallmarks of the Cranes' sound. Now, while the idea of taking jazz out of its proverbial stuffy cocktail lounge and throwing it into the sweaty basement of your average house show isn't exactly new, the Blue Cranes do it with such effortless authority that you can't help be a little awed. Indeed, when your dad sat you down in front of the hi-fi to show you there is more to life than three chords and a 4/4 meter, he wasn't reaching for any LPs that sounded like the Blue Cranes, but that's what makes them so great.

Continuing in the tradition of covering songs by indie rock artists, Homing Patterns contains a standout cover of the Sufjan Stevens track, "Seven Swans," which begins sparse and tentative, but ends full and forceful. "Beware the Pneumatic Nailer," which one can only guess is a reference to Wallsmith's day job as a carpenter, starts as a swirling cacophony and gets moving with a straightforward rhythm, eventually developing into a fantastic 7/4 groove before ending all too abruptly. "Early Morning" slowly rises with saxophones casually conversing, in a dialogue that gets increasingly heated, until scorching guitar work drops in and lights the sun into the day. If you've been reluctant to try listening to jazz, or haven't liked what you've heard in the past, pick up Homing Patterns and take flight with the Blue Cranes, because the view from above might be one you like.

July 16, 2008
Melophobe (NYC / Boston / Portland / Seattle)
(live review of 7/12/08 show @ Doug Fir w/ Portland Cello Project)

The final cello-added act was the Blue Cranes, a local jazz band that started the set with a Sufjan Stevens cover of “Seven Swans”, which was amazing in its implementation. Starting with an initial upbeat walking tempo rhythm that became a moving wave of cannonading sound, it was easily the most dynamic piece of the evening. They followed with a self-composed track “Returning to Portland,” and finished with “Inner Dialogue” which was an interactive bit where stage members and the audience were called on for shout-outs on what became a dialogue on where to have brunch the following Sunday. But I can’t remember the exact location.

July 2008
Jazz Society of Oregon (Portland, OR)

Having just moved back to Portland after two years away, I had never heard of the Blue Cranes, but I'm certainly happy to know about them now. With a double-headed sax attack leading the way, this genre-fusing, experimental group is a welcome addition to a scene that too often tries to define itself as straight ahead, though it's much more diverse. And diversity is what this group is all about. Saxophonists Reed Wallsmith and Sly Pig share obtuse but somehow engaging melodies, trading lines with harsh tones before taking the proceedings outside the chords. This is not necessarily just free jazz. There are many compositional elements involved, as on the frenetic but held-together "Awesome Hawk," a blaring example of how modern jazz can be while still being plenty accessible. And it isn't just atonal jazz, though those elements exist. Take the melancholy "Seven Swans," a sparse but beautiful and melodic composition that wins with simplicity and tone before finishing in a Bad Plus-like bombast that also somehow works. This is not music for the masses. It is rooted in many traditions, but it feels young and vital. It is rough around the edges but also sophisticated. It's a guy wearing a tuxedo begging for change. It's the bungalow on a street of mansions -- you know it's there and you don't want to look but if you don't, you might be missing a gem. It's not a jazz album as much as it is a mash-up of styles and instruments. "X" is a brash rocker with a sweet melodic heart as played by the group, which also includes Ji Tanzer on drums, Keith Brush on acoustic bass and Rebecca Sanborn on keys and piano, along with guest guitarist Ila Cantor. This is fun music that pushes the limits ... but not too far. The disc is not crisply produced. The sounds all seem very live and with you, which works in building a feeling of hipness. The avant-garde sax duet, "Washington Park - Eastbound" was recorded in a Max tunnel, giving it an other-worldly feel. As I said, fun.

July 13, 2008
Audiophile Audition
(Portland, OR)

So what would happen if a group of younger musicians came to jazz by way of indie rock, indie pop, folk, and experimental music? Without conscious care for the trappings and traditions of jazz? With an emphasis on raw expressionism and boundless energy? The result of this might very well be the music of Blue Cranes, an indie jazz band from Portland, Oregon. “Homing Patterns” is the newest CD from this band that features original compositions and improvisations that were mostly recorded live in various venues around Portland, including an underground light rail station. But more on that in just a moment.

Blue Cranes’ sound is built around saxophones and has Reed Wallsmith on alto sax and Sly Pig (otherwise known as Joe Cunningham, if you get the pun on his last name, from the indie pop group, The Decembrists) on tenor sax. Their performances on the recording are uniformly coordinated, matching each other in tone, energy, and imagination. It’s a real pleasure to hear these two play together. Rebecca Sanborn performs on keyboards and piano, Keith Brush handles the acoustic bass, Ji Tanzer plays drums, and Ila Cantor is featured on guitar.

The music ranges from the dissonant to the semi-lyrical, and the musical journey that the band takes the listener on is filled with unexpected surprises, some jarring, but most are pleasantly intriguing. The use of melody is restrained and used sparingly (using instead repeated and concise melodic motifs like electronically samples sound bites), and instead spurts of expressionistic runs, growls, and howls supply the intensity and drive that propel the listener along. One of the more interesting numbers is “Washington Park – Eastbound,” a duet between Wallsmith and Pig. It was recorded in an underground light rail station underneath Washington Park in Portland. Both musicians work with the natural ambience and reverberation of the tiled environment, responding to the arrival and departure of one of the light rail trains and incorporating its sounds into the composition. It’s a totally fascinating piece and sums up the inventiveness and creativity of this endeavor. Leave behind your expectations and go along for the ride. Blue Cranes will take you to new and interesting places. If nothing else, you won’t be bored.

May 21, 2008
Willamette Week
(Portland, OR)

[INDIE PIG JAZZ] For a few long days last December, Blue Cranes alto saxophonist Reed Wallsmith was vomiting pretty heavily. Crappy timing, considering he was in the midst of recording the band’s latest album, Homing Patterns. Keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn then came down with the stomach flu. Meanwhile, Type Foundry engineer Jason Powers was huddled in a scarf with a box of Kleenex by his side.

“Pretty much every day we were recording, a different person got very sick,” Wallsmith says. The result, however painfully conceived, is a fine product of Portland’s dreary, sun-deprived winters. It’s also an evolutionary step in the brand of expressionistic jazz that’s defined the group since it linked up just over a year ago. But tenor saxophonist/horn arranger, Patterns- and Decemberists-contributor Joe Cunningham doesn’t think of the Cranes as a jazz band. Drummer Ji Tanzer agrees: “We’re just having fun and playing music using the influences we have...rock, folk, whatever. We’re not on a mission to teach rock listeners what jazz is all about.”

Those influences range from the Bad Plus to Elliott Smith (whose “Coming Up Roses” was covered on the Cranes’ debut). The band—rounded out by bassist Keith Brush and often found playing rock clubs like Holocene or sharing bills with punk groups—doesn’t see itself as “alt” or “experimental,” either. It is, however, open to experimenting with performance spaces. On Patterns’ “Washington Park–Eastbound,” for instance, Wallsmith and Cunningham—who recently made the screwy decision to go by “Sly Pig” to distinguish himself from an East Coast smooth jazz sax player of the same name (it’s a pun; figure it out)—play an eerie freeform horn duo recorded in the Washington Park MAX tunnel.

Wallsmith also has a whole backlog of ideas when it comes to keeping Portland jazz performances weird. “In Paris,” he says, “a hundred saxophonists were on some sort of email list and all showed up at the same subway stop at the same time, pulled out their horns, and played completely free for a minute. Then they put their horns away and dispersed,” he continues. “I’m putting a call out to all of Oregon and Washington that this should happen.” Well, Reed, I happen to have an old alto sax sitting in my closet. Just say the word.

May 7, 2007
Portland Mercury (Portland, OR)

Portland jazz group Blue Cranes celebrate the release of new album Homing Patterns tonight. They've set their sights on reclaiming jazz as an indie medium, played in regular clubs where you don't have to pay $80 for dinner while you listen. Remember when jazz was about musical experimentation, not pretentious cross-marketing? All hail Blue Cranes!

May 7, 2008
Willamette Week
(Portland, OR)

[ALT JAZZ] Blue Cranes is one of those rare jazz combos that appeals to both serious jazz listeners and alt-rock fans. Tonight the Portland quintet celebrates its second album, Homing Patterns, which features a Sufjan Stevens cover and 10 new originals by virtuoso altoist Reed Wallsmith (including one recorded in the MAX tunnel beneath the zoo). With Decemberists tenorman Joe "Sly Pig" Cunningham now aboard, the band features thoughtful, Mingus-influenced excursions that often erupt into raucous, smeary, David Murray-style sax duets. And the Cranes' rhythm section (keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn, acoustic bassist Keith Brush, drummer Ji Tanzer) cooks throughout.

May 5, 2008 (Portland, OR)

The quintet known as Blue Cranes are one of the many jazz groups in Portland that aim to take music reserved for smoky supper clubs and hotel bars into the rock club world. Led by alto sax player Reed Wallsmith, the group's freewheeling sound captures both the improvised energy and the gently melodic moments of John Coltrane's classic quartet and Sun Ra's Arkestra.

Blue Cranes also pay homage to their indie rock brethren by featuring covers of Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens on their two albums — the latest of which, Homing Patterns, was celebrated at a Holocene show this week.

For some further insight into Blue Cranes, Wallsmith was kind enough to answer some questions about the band via e-mail for LivePDX.

There seems to be a number of jazz and classical groups in Portland that are very serious about taking the music out of the concert halls and jazz clubs, and instead play in unusual venues and with varying types of something you wanted for Blue Cranes from the start?
I think for me it was mostly that I wanted to be playing music in the places that my friends and I were going to hear music. At the time when we formed the group, my friends listened mostly to rock music, so for me it was about playing in places that were accessible to them.

What inspired you to play jazz instead of going the route of most kids who want to play in a rock band?
I never really seriously listened to music until I started playing saxophone at the end of middle school. Before that I would listen to Z100 in an attempt to be able to talk about something at recess. The first music that seriously moved me was a compilation called The Best of the Jazz Saxophones. I started checking out albums by the musicians on the tape, and my love of improvised jazz music grew from there. For whatever reason, I didn't get into rock until much later. I sometimes felt like an outsider when I was younger because I knew who Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were but I couldn't name a song by Sonic Youth or Soundgarden.

How did the band get together?
Ji [Tanzer, Blue Cranes drummer] and I have played together since high school. In 2004, we were playing shows as a drum/sax duo. I had a four track project that I recorded that I wanted to put a band together to play. The two of us got together with Keith [Brush, bassist], who I had been playing with in Dave Storrs' and Jimmy Bennington's groups, and began playing as a trio. We joined with Rebecca [Sanborn, keyboards] a year later, and Joe (who now goes by Sly Pig) [tenor saxophone] a year or two after that.

You recorded one of the songs on the new album in the MAX tunnel...where did you hit upon that idea? What was the experience like?
Joe and I wanted to record a saxophone duo song for the album as a kind of outro or hidden track. We were trying to think of places to record it that would have a big natural reverb, and thought of the tunnel. We recorded it in the middle of rush hour, thinking that there would be lots of people around in the station, but, it turns out, the zoo is not a huge commuting hub. We played down there while Rebecca manned the recorder for about half an hour. The trains would come by packed with people, the doors would open, and after ten or twenty seconds of no one getting on or off, the doors would close and the trains would take off. It was funny thinking about the sounds of screeching saxophones filling the train cars full of commuters. After we recorded it, it became one of my favorite tracks, with all of the sounds from the train and the loudspeaker and the wind ripping through tunnel. The experience was so fun that we're planning to record a whole album of saxophone duo, with each song done in a different public location.

What is next for the band after your upcoming tour through California?
We've been working hard to get away from using any sheet music, so if we haven't gotten there yet by the tour, we'll continue chipping away at that. We've been talking with the Paxselin Quartet about writing music together for a double quartet/quintet group and calling it The Chamber of Commerce, which I'm pretty excited about. We're planning to do a MAX Blue Line tour, in which the ticket to the show is a MAX ticket, and we get off at stops along the route to play. We'll see if this happens.... We're going to tour out East sometime this Fall, to play shows with friends in Providence and New York and points in between.

May 2, 2008
The Oregonian
(Portland, OR)

Jazz has long been home to virtuoso soloists, and usually, the younger they were, the more notes they played. But the Blue Cranes' Reed Wallsmith has moved in the opposite direction. His compositions build simple melodies on two-and-three-note motifs that attain intensity from repetition and a broad, expressive tone.

On the Cranes' second album, "Homing Patterns," Wallsmith (saxophone) and original Cranes Keith Brush (bass), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards) and Ji Tanzer (drums) continue to draw from folk and indie rock to create shifting, cinematic soundscapes that further blur the line between jazz and popular music.

This time, though, they've added a new voice in Joe Cunningham, tenor sax player for the Decemberists. New York guitarist Ila Cantor also guests on the CD, but Wallsmith has found a kindred spirit in Cunningham. Their collaboration is at the heart of the new Cranes sound, whether they're playing in unison or weaving decorative lines around each other.

With Tanzer kicking out steady beats, you're always well-grounded, even on Cunningham's "Dirty Bourbon," where the waltz feel is never lost, even as it goes wildly off-kilter and Cantor deconstructs the melody. Only the infrequent free-blowing sections cause the focus to wander.

Despite the simple melodies and rock beats, the Cranes' music never feels monotonous or static. Like the long-form compositions of other progressive jazz artists, it's constantly changing. In "Awesome Hawk," for instance, the spacious melody gives way to an untidy improvisational passage before the sweeping theme returns, the volume and intensity build to a dramatic peak and the Cranes take flight. The view is different up there, and actually quite serene.

May 3, 2008
Southeast Examiner
(Portland, OR)

Migrating back from a successful West Coast tour as far south as San Francisco, Portland’s Blue Cranes have released their third recording, Homing Patterns. Blue Cranes celebrate their new disc with a homecoming concert Wednesday, May 7, at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison at 8 pm. Tickets are $6 for folks 21 and over. Blue Cranes are Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone), Sly Pig (tenor saxophone), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboard), Keith Brush (bass), Ji Tanzer (drums) and their guest on seven of the eleven tracks is New York guitarist Ila Cantor. The addition of Sly Pig (Joe Cunning-ham) has evolved their sound farther, clearer, tighter and to a more spontaneous juncture. Pushing the borders of jazz with rock structures, latin rhythms and voicings bringing the open playing of pioneers like Coltrane, Dolphy and Ornette Coleman into the group sound- scaffolding, this unit breathes together, takes chances together and goes places together. Wa llsmith’s alto is instantly recognizeable from the first notes on the first track, “S.T.I.L.L.” as the melodic voice of other Blue Cranes recordings and his compositions have a distinctive sound with a dash of wholeworld flavor. The twin alto and tenor countervoices echo and mirror jazz’s other great sax duets but sounding more like now. The bass here is large and articulate, the piano clear and the drums metamorphic. The band’s playing and interplay here is seductive like a multi-headed, one body Hydra of sound. By the fifth track, a waltz called “Dirty Bourbon” (recorded live in the Max tunnel somehow), the band’s momentum is a continuous story and wave and exhilarating. A track from Homing Patterns has already been selected for the 2008 PDX PopNow! compilation. Have a preview listen at and find out what all the buzz is about. And don’t miss them live at Holocene for the close-up 3D experience. Their website is and a high quality mp3 version of the album is available for immediate download (as well as mail order for real cds) at

January 2008
Performer Magazine
(national publication)

In recent years, Portland has become a breeding ground for a number of exciting jazz combos, all of which aim to take the genre out of the cocktail lounge and into the indie rock club. One such group is an invigorating quartet known as Blue Cranes. Although it sticks to the typical lineup of a jazz quartet (sax, keys, bass and drums), the group avoids expository solos and renditions of traditional songs, instead sticking together throughout like a rock band and, on this album, even covering a song by the late Elliott Smith.

Blue Cranes haven’t completely eschewed the notions of what jazz music is, writing straightforward works like the swinging ode to another Portland band “Thirty Ought Six Circus,” as well as proving they can ride a Latin groove with best of them on “Cristo De Palacaguina.” Yet what makes Blue Cranes so enticing is how closely they align themselves with other jazz artists like Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus, who stretched the boundaries of what jazz can be. To that end, the Cranes have included fascinating songs like “Dear Howard,” where they provide the backing track for a spoken word piece, and the slow-simmering tunes “Greenwood” and “Aluvion Song for Audrey,” which see each member (especially drummer Ji Tanzer and bassist Keith Brush) thrumming and rolling along like ocean waves.

The real star of this show is Reed Wallsmith though, not only for his brilliant alto sax work but also for his production on the album. The young bandleader adds the right amount of texture and color to this already captivating musical canvas. With his input, Blue Cranes take flight with ease and grace on this accomplished debut.

DAVID KING (Minneapolis, MN)
(The Bad Plus, Happy Apple)

Great melodies and a strong focus on ensemble playing over individual virtuosity.

August 5, 2007
PDX Pop Now! Blog
(Portland, OR)

"... I managed to make it back in time for the amazing Blue Cranes. We've been hearing The Cranes described as one of Portland's leading jazz lights and now I know why. They just played the heck out of a bunch of songs, ranging from originals to a cover of Portland mainstay (and PDX Pop alums) The Kingdom to a few standards. Keeping tightly to the charts, The Cranes intersperse wild out wailing with elegant straight ahead melodic soloing. Reed (their leader and alto player) walks that tightrope particularly well, using honks, squawks, and runs to enliven choruses and add dramatic tension to his solos. Their rhythm section drives the whole proceedings with a near-rock style straight beat decorated just the slightest forward-leaning swing.

We're lucky, living in a town so far from New Orleans, New York, LA, and the other centers of American jazz, to have the Blue Cranes and Evolutionary Jass Band (coming up later tonight!) and the other truly excellent original groups that we do."

August 2007
PDX Pop Now! Festival Pamphlet
(Portland, OR)

Local rock fans, don't be afraid of this young experimental jazz quintet, since they're one of you, having covered both The Kingdom and Elliott Smith on their 2007 debut, Lift Music! Flown Music!. Like The Bad Plus -- who've given them props -- the Blue Cranes swing with both jazz tradition and current pop sounds.

April 26, 2007
Portland Mercury (Portland, OR)

"Nothing scares me more than a jazz group playing a rock club. When I see horns in a club setting, my first, and only, instinct is to flee. Blame ska. Granted, Holocene isn't your typical club, and Blue Cranes are far from your typical jazz quintet. Their abstract arrangements and bold decision to cover an Elliott Smith song make them a nice exception to the "no horns in the club" rule."

March 29, 2007 Pop Music Blog

(Portland, OR)

"Jazz has a notoriously hard time attracting young audiences, so Blue Cranes' recent venues have been somewhat unusual: Holocene in January for their CD release party, and Someday Lounge on Wednesday night, both of which skew toward a younger crowd than the typical jazz show.

But Blue Cranes showed last night that they're not really trying to be the typical jazz outfit, either. For one, they're obviously influenced by rock (the drumming leaned more toward rock than jazz at Someday). There's also the strong compositions that form the group's backbone (the group's leader, Reed Wallsmith, won a residency at Caldera for his composing skills).

The quintet, playing with guest drummer Todd Bishop (regular drummer Ji Tanzer was on tour), fit each other easily; Wallsmith's alto sax and Joe Cunningham's tenor sax especially worked well together..."

December, 2006
(Portland, OR)
(author of The Music of Anthony Braxton and Northern Sun, Southern Moon: Europe's Reinvention of Jazz)

Music reviewers of a certain age (hello…) develop an eye and ear for late bloomers in the bud. At least that’s what I tell myself when I groove and daydream along with one of my new favorite local bands since I’ve been living back here in my City of Roses this past year.

When you’ve been around seeing and commenting on these matters as long as I have, your mind is full of arcs where once were sparks. You’ve seen players and bands who burst on the scene with promise and brilliance settle into commerce and career after a time and lose all their original interest, even as the arc of their success extrudes. You’ve seen others start more humbly but also more hauntingly and grow with the pace of a plant into the full realization of their musical promise, whatever their worldly success or lack thereof.

But maybe that dichotomy is too pat to cover Blue Cranes. These four 20/30-somethings have in fact brought impressive beginners’ creds to the group, and the group itself has presented with its own impressive bang since forming in 2004, visible often in all the best rock and jazz venues in Portland’s healthy music scene, audible live on its excellent local music stations KMHD and KBOO.

Still, my sense of them is more personal, and more of their potential’s future than its present. I hear something in this CD debut (and live around town) that reminds me of lush greens in rich Oregon soil, fertilized by equally rich elements from other parts of the world. It fills my mind with visions of the full blown plants to come.

The soul of its sound is Portland native Reed Wallsmith. Composer of five of the CD’s eight tracks, and provider of some keyboard and vocal bits, he’s most present in his alto saxophone. It grabbed me by shining a broad, bright beam on ground common to most jazz people: the personal envoicing of the alto sax sound. It’s something like jazz’s equivalent to violin in the classical tradition: warm, human, relaxed, also brilliant, fluid, poignant. I instantly connected it to the tradition of Bird, Desmond, Ornette, and Braxton.

If Wallsmith has schooled himself in that tradition, it may have been by minimizing its influence in favor of his own path, as those players did. His sound suggests that—no blatant imitation here—but even more so his musical mind. He thinks melodically more than any other way, and his pieces strike a mood throughhis melodies that, with his sound, begs the tag “soulful.” Not in the now-generic sense, but as in full possession of his own young-old soul, full of Portland’s musical and…weather-full soul.

His melodies also speak things that invite other things to join it (unlike much similar butt more hermetic beauty). These feel like aspects of an aesthetic in its formative youth. The first of those components is the roles played by his three bandmates. Each shares Wallsmith’s intimate command of his or her instrument, and more generally interdisciplinary musicianship; all are well-known players on the scene in other good local bands, sometime-leaders/composers themselves.

This CD draws on free jazz (Wallsmith’s work), indie rock (covers of Portland band The Kingdom’s “Polaris,” and the late great PDX-son singer-songwriter Elliot Smith’s “Coming up Roses”), local poetry (Nico Alvarado-Greenwood’s “Dear Howard”), gritty-cool electronic effects, everyday speech and sounds, film music, and the Nicaraguan Nueva Cancion political song movement (Nicaraguan musician-laureate Carlos Mejia Godoy’s “Cristo de Palacagüina”) Wallsmith has studied and participated in in Managua, Havana, Barcelona, and Berlin, as well as around the States.

Blue Cranes: humble while engaging, not afraid to not dazzle and impress, too brashly…handling its youthful energies and potentials wisely—a rare and heartening sight.

February 9, 2007
The Oregonian
(Portland, OR)

The compositions and arrangements on the first CD for this young jazz group won bandleader Reed Wallsmith the 2007 Caldera Arts residency. That should be no surprise once you hear it, for this is music of great promise.

Built on simple melodies, often delivered slowly by Wallsmith's compelling alto saxophone over keyboard, bass and drums, these tunes are constructed with subtle sophistication. Never sleepy or static, and sporting an indie-rock edge that periodically disrupts the tranquillity, the Blue Cranes are what jazz is all about: applying advanced harmonies and improvisation to the sounds of the day. It's worked for the Bad Plus, and it might for the Cranes, too.

"Returning to Portland," for instance, opens abruptly with an off-kilter but strangely pretty line that spins out slowly in a minor key until, about four minutes in, an infant's cry shatters the mood. Drums and bass scratch and scrabble uneasily until the questing alto rides again, followed by distorted, bowed bass and a rocking backbeat over which the melody finally emerges, this time in a major key.

Several tunes have similar narrative scope; "Dear Howard," a series of poems recited over the music, literally presents a story, though it's overlong and obscure. And Wallsmith's arrangement of the Nicaraguan "Cristo de Palacaguina" evokes the Sandinista struggle, retaining its folk feel while shifting into improvisational territory. They turn Elliott Smith's "Coming Up Roses" into jazz as well.

Though the melodies tend to sound similar, I walk around happily whistling those insistent instrumental lines over and over; they feel new each time. Expect to hear more from the Cranes, who also include Keith Brush (bass), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards) and Ji Tanzer (drums).

January 24, 2007
Willamette Week (Portland, OR)

"...The immediate kickers on the disc are its two cover tracks. The first is the Kingdom’s “Polaris,” in which the quartet manages to pull the song’s original, abstract melody out and put the remainder into a jazz composition without compromising the piece or its penners. Basically, cut the tempo of the Kingdom’s version and replace Chuck Westmoreland’s vocals with the alto sax of Blue Cranes’ massively talented and powerful Reed (yes, really) Wallsmith. ... the Cranes’ abstraction is indeed welcome. Breaking formula with a fairly non-trad keyboard progression, the cover also rolls with a fair amount of unexpected drama.

Blue Cranes also takes on Elliott Smith’s “Coming Up Roses.” Bold move: One can easily imagine a Muzak-ish outcome, not to mention the ensuing street riots in Portland. But it’s a good adaptation, with the Cranes cleverly condensing the chorus into a single measure. ..."

"Blue Cranes celebrates the release of Lift Music! Flown Music! with Bright Red Paper and Rollerball Wednesday, Jan. 24, at Holocene. 9 pm. $6. 21+."

January 2007
Wayside Music / Cuneiform Records
(Silver Spring, MD)

I was turned onto this unique jazz and etcetera quartet by John Hollenbeck who I think heard them when they opened for the Claudia Quintet! [BC note: we didn't open - just watched] The music is definitely comparable to Claudia, which means many of you would probably be interested in what they're doing here. A fine first effort.

January 2007
Southeast Examiner
(Portland, OR)

Blue Cranes, Portland’s four-piece instrumental group blur the line between jazz and indie rock and adventure. Their first full length album, Lift Music! Flown Music! will be released at Holocene,1001 SE Morrison on Wednesday January 24, 9 pm.

The new Blue Cranes CD begins with “Returning to Portland”, a haunting tune featuring an unforgettable saxophone melody accompanied by an unusual electronic organ, upright bass, cellos and drum combo. The stage is set for the unfolding musical tale that lifts and soars, inviting repeated listenings.

The CD title refers to the actions of a heavy machinery company and the wetland African bird from which this band derives its name. Portland’s Blue Cranes have a thoughtful and accessible blend of cohesive sounds with capable and accomplished musicians listening and playing together in a refreshing, powerful ensemble. Five of the eight tunes are originals penned by founder Reed Wallsmith.

The music on Lift Music! Flown Music! draws on free jazz (saxophonist Wallsmith’s work), indie rock (covers of The Kingdom’s “Polaris,” and the late PDX-son singer-songwriter Elliot Smith’s “Coming up Roses”), local poetry (Nico Alvarado-Greenwood’s “Dear Howard”), film music, and the Nicaraguan Nueva Cancion political song movement (Nicaraguan musician-laureate Carlos Mejia Godoy’s “Cristo de Palacaguina”).

Alto saxophonist, composer and bandleader Wallsmith has studied and played in Managua, Havana, Barcelona and Berlin, as well as around the States. His saxophone is featured on the soundtrack to St. Helen’s Road, a film by filmmaker Jim Blashfield. Wallsmith is recipient of the 2007 Caldera Arts residency for music composition.

Keyboardist Rebecca Sanborn began writing music at the age of nine, and went on to study composition as well as theatre. She also performs as a singer-songwriter under her own name and recently released Ballads and Namesakes on Duomo Records.

Bassist Keith Brush began a music career in Montana with the Billings Symphony while performing with multiple cross-genre groups. Brush has had the opportunity to study, perform and record with Dirty Martini, The Stolen Sweets, Ca“a Son, and The Dusty York Trio.

Drummer Ji Tanzer performs with National Flower, the Nigerian afro-beat of Jujuba, and the Ghanaian fusion of Chata Addy. Tanzer has collaborated with jazz pianists Darrell Grant and Randy Porter, receiving recognition in Downbeat magazine.

Blue Cranes, part of a movement of Portland bands (alongside Paxselin and Evolutionary Jass Band) breathe new life into the structure and aesthetic of a music sometimes “mothballed by purists and considered dead by cynics”. Since forming in 2004, Blue Cranes have successfully built a diverse audience of people not normally drawn to jazz. They have amassed an impressive log of shows at the most prominent rock and jazz venues in the Portland area, as well as performing live on the air at local music stations, KMHD and KBOO.

Scheduled guests for the CD soiree are Bright Red Paper and Rollerball. The show starts at 9pm. The concert is for ages 21+,and the cover is $6.

For further information, visit their website at

January 12, 2006
Portland Mercury (Portland, OR)

"reverential jazz stylings"

2005 (New York, NY)

Blue Cranes is the name of a Portland, Oregon-based jazz trio whose self-titled CD is an EP containing live performances. They describe their music as fusing “the repetitive elements of modern loop-based music with traditional and avant-garde jazz styles in an acoustic setting.”

The music on Blue Cranes inevitably centers around the intriguing alto saxophonist Reed Wallsmith. He immediately grabs the listener through the sheer size of his sound. His tone is big, expressive, and marked by a warm vibrato. He takes chances when he plays, using a variety of tonal shadings and some vocalized effects. However, Wallsmith sometimes stumbles over his double-timing, which blunts the force of his ideas. On the other hand, he swings forcefully for the most part.

The greatest strength of Blue Cranes is their unity as a band. Wallsmith, bassist Keith Brush, and drummer Ji Tanzer anticipate each other's moves with considerable empathy, while Brush and Tanzer adroitly punctuate Wallsmith's lines. Their propulsive swing is especially evident on “Running Out” and “.30-06 Circus.” Guitarist Johannes Haage is a definite asset when he appears. His comping adds depth to the sound, particularly on the rubato ballad “A Nicaragua.”

Blue Cranes play entirely original material, with some tasty melodies and an attractive variety of rhythmic approaches. Harmonically, however, there seem to be similarities in each tune, resulting in a sameness in mood to this CD. Overall, however, this is a fine band, and Blue Cranes is a solid album.

Track listing: Running Out, .30-06 Circus, A Nicaragua, Crane.

Personnel: Reed Wallsmith, alto saxophone; Keith Brush, bass; Ji Tanzer, drums. Tracks 3, 4: Johannes Haage, guitar.

September 22, 2005
Portland Mercury (Portland, OR)

"Local, sax-based quintet Blue Cranes play palatable, melodic originals rounded out with bass, drums, and keyboards..."